The Minnesota College Athletic Conference and the USA High School Clay Target League have partnered to pioneer the first varsity Clay Target League for two-year college athletic programs. The MCAC, comprised of over 20 colleges, includes campuses in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
USA High School Clay Target League, based in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, is the nation's largest independent provider of high school clay target shooting sports with nearly 22,000 student athletes representing 804 high school teams in 20 states participating this spring. Minnesota has the highest participation in the League with almost 12,000 student athletes and more than 340 teams.
The fall of 2018 will represent the first varsity season of competition for ten programs in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. The sponsoring MCAC schools (listed below) will compete in a six-week season, culminating in a season-ending event in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
With the assistance of the USA High School Clay Target League, MCAC teams will compete each week within the league, with all teams competing at their 'home' shooting range and will have the scores tabulated virtually using USA Clay Target's 'True Team Scoring' system. Allowing teams to compete against each other without significant travel costs was a key factor in the ability to take the sport to the varsity level in only it's second year.
|Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College||Cloquet, MN||
Director of Athletics: Laura Sylvester
|Hibbing Community College||Hibbing, MN||
Head Coach: Peter Stoddard
|Itasca Community College||Grand Rapids, MN||
Head Coach: Frank Redfield
|Lake Superior College||Duluth, MN||
Head Coach: George Pappas
Athletic Director: Keith Turner
|Mesabi Range College||Virginia, MN||
Head Coach: Cary Satrang
|Minnesota West Community & Technical College||Worthington, MN||
Director of Athletics: Robert Purcell
|Northland Community & Technical College||Thief River Falls, MN||Head Coach: Rod Lahren
Ph: 218-793-2614 (office)
|Rainy River Community College||International Falls, MN||
Head Coach: Eric Norstad
|Pine Technical and Community College||Pine City, MN||
Head Coach: Christopher Keeler
|Southwest Wisconsin Technical College||Fennimore, WI||
Head Coach: Matt Schneider
|Vermilion Community College||Ely, MN||
Head Coach: Wade Klingsporn
The rapid growth of the sport has also allowed the Minnesota College Athletic Conference to add to the ranks of its member schools. Pine Technical & Community College, in Pine City, Minnesota and Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore, Wisconsin will both be new MCAC members beginning with the 2018 season; Southwest Tech will also bring their NJCAA varsity golf program into the MCAC in the fall.
The rise of Clay Target in the high school ranks is well chronicled, both in Minnesota and several other Midwestern states. According to a 2017 Pioneer Press report last May, there are 343 teams in the Minnesota Clay Target League, which provides a competitive platform for over 11,000 high-school-aged participants in the land of 10,000 lakes.
This meteoric growth did not go unnoticed by college athletic directors and administrators around the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. Discussions regarding a competitive league as a pilot program in the MCAC began in 2016, and by the spring of 2017, several two-year colleges banded together to give it their best shot. The sport was a natural fit among the five Northeast Higher Education District (NHED) schools, with campuses found in the Iron Range and Arrowhead region of the state, where high school clay target teams were already formed and thriving.
However, interest was not limited to the rural campuses in communities such as Ely, International Falls and Hibbing. Lake Superior College is located in Duluth, one of the largest metro areas in Minnesota, and the IceHawks squad joined the NHED schools for the first season. And, while they did not participate in the pilot league this past fall, several colleges including Riverland Community College (Austin) and Ridgewater College (Willmar) have been exploring the possibility of forming teams in the upcoming years.
One other component of the attractiveness of the sport is a connection to the academic programs found at many MCAC campuses. Degrees in Wildlife Management, Environmental Studies/Conservation, Outdoor Recreation and Gunsmithing/Firearms Technology are found at schools across the Minnesota State Colleges & University system, and seem to go hand-in-hand with the evolution of the college version of the sport.
As has been observed at the high school level, the economics and inclusiveness of the sport are important to consider.
Having teams with robust rosters - Vermilion had 39 athletes on their inaugural 2017 squad - with the ability to compete against other teams without weekly travel saves colleges thousands on transportation costs. There also exists significant investment from entities outside the colleges, funding sources are more broad for Clay Target than most other start-up sporting endeavors.
In speaking with Greg Thompson, an outdoor pursuits author and expert in Minnesota, "The sport shooting clubs are already there and looking to attract new participants; colleges do not have to build or retrofit a new space or field. Outdoor recreation companies and sport marketing agencies have invested grant dollars specifically in the growth of the sport in the high schools, so community college teams are at a (natural intersection) point of non-profit and commercial growth, from an economic perspective."
MCAC Executive Director Peter Watkins notes that the chance to engage new a new population in the athletic departments of colleges allows, "schools to expand their 'brand' and school pride to a whole new population in and around their communities. The Clay Target student-athletes - and their families - are connecting more strongly with their school, buying sweatshirts in the campus bookstore, coming onto campus more often, learning about the education options at the colleges, much like we see in other sport populations."
John Nelson, the vice president of the USA High School Clay Target League, spoke to the extensive safety training that their organization provides MCAC members. "Clay target shooting continues to be the safest sport in schools," said Nelson, "the League's Student Athlete Firearm Education and Coach Leadership And Safety Support certification programs are designed specifically for League participants to provide the safest event environment possible." There has never been a reported injury in the history of the USA High School Clay Target League.
The MCAC member colleges which will have 2018 fall varsity teams will meet again this May to create a fall competitive calendar. The Conference expects colleges to form and finalize their team rosters by late August; team practices will commence the first week of September and all schools will compete each week at their home range. A final, championship in-person event will be held at a central location just prior to MEA Weekend in mid-October. Some teams may elect to extend their season at collegiate regional and/or national competitions.
Looking around the corner, the Conference may seek to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) for recognition of the sport at that level.
Watkins reports, "The NJCAA currently recognizes some emerging sports such as Half-Marathon, Bowling and others, so we want to position the sport of Clay Target to be a part of those discussions at the right time. For the immediate future, our goal is to build a strong foundation within the Conference, while keeping an eye on the future."
With the collective number of high school Clay Target athletes exceeding 15,000 in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, it is likely that the sport will remain on the radar of many MCAC community colleges.
Several individuals worked significantly behind the scenes to make the new league a reality. Hibbing Community College athletic director Mike Flaten, NHED President William Maki visioned the league with the help of Justin Lamppa (Itasca Community College) and Vermilion Community College Athletic Director Paul McDonald throughout the 2017-18 school year. Strong support from the MCAC Executive Committee and advice from USA Clay Target provided the framework and momentum to engineer the opportunity to lead in the creation of the varsity-level Conference.
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About the Minnesota College Athletic Conference
The Minnesota College Athletic Conference is the organizational body for NJCAA-affiliated two-year technical and community college athletic programs in the Minnesota State system. The mission of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is to advance intercollegiate athletics by providing an engaging and supportive environment for success of our student athletes and competition among member institutions. The MCAC is committed to the guiding principles of encouraging the development and success of student athletes, promoting the integrity, honesty and loyalty to member schools as well as upholding the sustainability of conference athletic programs.
For more information, visit www.mcacsports.org